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Where Is the Republican Marketplace of Ideas?

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By: Andy Myers

Republicans keep talking about ideas. As in: "Let's stop focusing on personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, let's instead focus on ideas."

Both Heather Wilson, former Republican Representative from New Mexico, and controversial former U.N. ambassador John Bolton made this argument on Friday's "Real Time with Bill Maher." Bolton: "I don't think this is a question of personalities. I think the way for the Republican Party to regain power... is to be the party of ideas again. Let's have different people say what they think, and in the marketplace of ideas, we'll see what prevails." Wilson: "Parties are collections of people who are united by... sets of ideas, so let's talk about those ideas."

That's the main talking point for Republicans these days: ideas not personalities. That's all fine and good; I think we can all agree that we should be talking about ideas. But I have yet to hear one Republican strategist or lawmaker follow that thought to its logical conclusion and actually espouse a governing philosophy beyond Cut Taxes. Where are the ideas? Bill Maher, usually one of the toughest interviewers out there, failed to press them on that question, and it's a shame because I really wanted to hear the answer.

Cutting Taxes isn't going to rebuild the infrastructure of this country. This is a huge problem that has not gone away just because there haven't been any major bridge collapses since the one in Minneapolis in 2007. There's a tendency among politicians and the media alike to let important issues drop once the immediate crisis is over. Yes, there haven't been any major infrastructure failures in almost two years, but that doesn't mean we've fixed things. It just means we've been lucky.

This is the same argument Dick Cheney has been making, by the way. He uses the fact that we have not been attacked on our soil since September 11th, 2001, as proof that the Bush/Cheney policies of the past eight years have succeeded in keeping us safe. But that argument is specious. It assumes cause-and-effect, and distracts us from the facts: Osama bin Laden is still at large. Al Qaeda is larger and stronger than it was before 9/11, and waging an all-out war in Pakistan. Just last week, at least 23 people were killed in a suicide attack in Lahore. A nuclear-armed nation is in danger of being overrun by Al Qaeda. We're not safer than we were eight years ago, no matter what Dick Cheney says.

But back to ideas and the Republicans' one coherent proposal: cutting taxes on small businesses.

They say if we put money into the hands of business owners, they'll hire more people and the wealth will trickle down. I thought this argument had been thoroughly discredited by the disastrous Bush economic policies, but apparently not.

In an uncertain economy, people (especially rich people) are more likely to save their money (or try to find bargains in one market or another), not expand their businesses. For proof of this, look no further than the current corporate environment: despite an unprecedented influx of government money, companies are cutting overhead, not investing in R&D or developing new products. So printing money and handing it out may not be the answer to our economic woes, but neither is cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us.

In order to help find the answers, Republicans need to create that marketplace of ideas, rather than just paying lip service to it. But the media have a responsibility to help create that marketplace as well. Republicans must be pressed to answer their own challenge and propose solutions, not just vote nay on every bill and distract us with side issues.

If Republicans want to oppose the Obama administration's policies, that's their right. But it's not good enough to say "Cut Taxes. Ronald Reagan. Ideas." They have to tell us why they're in opposition, and suggest compromises or alternatives.

And when they talk about a marketplace of ideas, we in the media have to ask, "What are those ideas?"

Andy Myers is a television news producer and writer.

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